NHS hospital bosses are urgently calling on UK government ministers to boost NHS staffing by prioritising overseas recruitment, and to convince existing EU staffs to remain in post.

This is supported by a report by NHS Providers, which represents health trusts in England. It depicted a sorry state of the understaffed service and stated that Brexit could exacerbate the current challenges.

Although NHS has over 12,700 more doctors and 10,600 more nurses since May 2010, more staffs are required to cope with the rising health service demands among the public.

Brexit: The hiring barrier between NHS and EU citizens

NHS is highly dependent on overseas staff among countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the report highlighted. In total, around 29% of doctors and 13% of nurses in the UK were trained overseas.

Brexit is regarded as the main barrier to overseas recruitment to the NHS. In view of UK scheduled to depart from the European Union (EU) on March 2019 – but, with a lack of progress in the Brexit negotiations – the ambiguous status of EU staffs in NHS is worrying, emphasised NHS trust chiefs.

Since Brexit, around 10,000 EU nationals have left the NHS within a year. For the nursing and midwifery profession, the number of EU individuals entering UK has decreased drastically by 89% in the past year. In addition, the number of UK graduates leaving the profession has reduced by 9%.

This could potentially threaten the quality of care for patients, as NHS is struggling to cope with growing and changing pressures, such as budget cuts for social care, an ageing population, etc. A survey of 149 NHS chief executives and chairmen found 66% considered workforce concerns as their most pressing challenge to the delivery of high quality care.

Retaining foreign NHS staff a pressing need

Shortage of healthcare professionals needs to be dealt with to meet the increasing demands of quality patient care.
Shortage of healthcare professionals needs to be dealt with to meet the increasing demands of quality patient care.

On the other hand, UK ministers have pledged to boost the number of UK-trained doctors and nurses – expanding the number of medical school places by one quarter by 2025. Yet, these plans may require a longer term to reach goals, highlighted NHS trust chiefs.

“We don’t have enough staff with the right skills and we’re asking far too much of our existing staff,” expressed Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers.

Thus, there is a need to “retain staff from the EU and the rest of the world to mitigate the workforce gap,” reported NHS Providers. Hopson remarked that the government should act in encouraging 62,000 EU staff in the NHS, who represent 5.6% of the total workforce of 1.2 million.

“It should reassure them that their commitment to the NHS is greatly valued and will continue to be welcome. It should also provide reassurance on immigration policy, so trusts can continue to recruit overseas while we strengthen our workforce here,” he added.

“Any significant reduction in the number of overseas staff in the next few years is likely to have a serious and damaging impact on services for the public,” stated NHS Providers.

In a survey, 85% of 151 trust chairs and chief executives said it was crucial to allow overseas recruitment in their hospital over the next three years.

The government’s Health Secretary addressed the need to allow NHS staffs from the EU to remain in the post as the “top priority in Brexit negotiations”. However, no official commitment has been made so far. MIMS

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